The reviews are coming in and they are almost entirely positive. President Obama went to Tucson to comfort a grieving community and just about everyone who saw the speech declared it to be perfect, excellent, brilliant, wonderful, a home run, just what the doctor ordered.
Pres. Obama did what he had to do. He acted presidential. He did it while exercising a very high level of self-control ... to prevent himself from grinning during his speech. Obama’s face was frozen into a near grimace, perhaps because he feared breaking out in an inappropriate smile.
After the speech, however, Obama was all smiles as he greeted his fans and supporters.
The speech succeeded because this time Obama struck the right religious and patriotic chords. When it came time to address the rancorous debate swirling around last Saturday’s massacre, he stood above the fray and announced that we should not be casting blame and aspersions.
Presidents who attack their base supporters always look good; they always look presidential.
And yet, for all of the great reviews, much of today’s commentary centers on the audience reaction. Assembled in a field house, in a ceremony led by a university president, the student audience did not seem to know where it was. It did not seem to know what was and was not appropriate for a memorial service.
As many have noted, it seemed to think that it was attending a pep rally, either to cheer on the home team or to support a favorite political candidate.
If the notion of raining on a parade means anything, then the audience at the Tucson memorial service rained on America’s parade last night.
John Podhoretz offered the harshest judgment, pronouncing the audience to have been nothing less than “appalling.” Link here.
It’s well and good to call for civility, Podhoretz said, but civility begins with observing the proper mood and tone for a ceremonial occasion.
If the speech had been delivered from the Oval Office, directly to the American people, without the applause track, it would have been, as Podhoretz and others have noted, perfect.
But the speech was not delivered to a camera. It was part of an event, and you cannot detach the one from the other quite so easily. Given the way the event was conducted, it was anything but perfect.
A memorial service is not a pep rally, and if you don’t know the difference, it’s a problem. When you are commemorating the deaths of six people, among them a federal judge and a 9 year old girl, there’s nothing to cheer about. Nothing to applaud.
I am well aware of the fact that a certain number of pundits, who shall be unnamed, pronounced the tone just right. The community needed a shot in the arm, a boost to its spirits, and the president provided it.
One suspects that most of these pundits would have pronounced the speech a success no matter what had happened.
But, it wasn’t just the Tucson community that needed a boost to its spirits. President Obama needed one too. Having had his administration and his leadership repudiated two months ago, he needed to regain his political footing.
In many ways, he did. Perhaps his greatest triumph was turning a memorial service for the victims of a massacre into his own political resurrection.
Give the White House staff come credit for the way the event was organized. It was held in a place where students go to cheer on their home team. It was opened to the student body. It was conducted by the president of the university, not be a minister or a priest or a rabbi. It’s only religious participant was a Native American spiritual leader. And it found prominent places for two of the weakest members of the president’s cabinet: Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano.
Who knows why Eric Holder was there, except to allow him to bathe in the good feelings that surround the event. God knows, he is going to need them once the Congressional committees start investigating the way he has run the Justice Department.
And given the rancor that has existed between President Obama and the current governor of Arizona over illegal immigration, what better political touch than to invite the former governor, Janet Napolitano, on whose watch Arizona’s illegal immigrant problem has gotten worse.
Given that the American people have been more than willing to criticize Eric Holder, why not put him in a position where he cannot be criticized. And given the Obama administration’s maladroit handling of the illegal immigration problem in Arizona, why not make Napolitano one of the principal mourners.
If it is true that the event was organized as a political resurrection after the president‘s near-death experience in the mid-term elections, then the assembled students understood perfectly what it was all about. The applauded Obama because they supported Obama. They reacted as though the speech were a campaign event, because that is what it was.
And ask yourself this: did anyone on the podium attempt in any way to tamp down the raucous crowed, out of respect for the dead.
[I just noticed that the White House provided tee shirts for the audience at this memorial event. The slogan on the shirts: Together We Thrive. Does that speak solemn memorial or campaign theme?]